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James "Frederick" Vedder Letter -- The Mysterious Bird

It was in the 1890’s I had been in New York for a considerable period of time. Employed by the New York Edison Co. and had come down to St. Augustine on a thirty day vacation. My Grandfather Dr. John Vedder amused himself by operating a Florida Museum and Menagerie in the old Spanish Prison Bldg. on the north west corner of Bay and Treasury Sts. On arriving in St. Augustine; found my grandfather quite ill and being taken care of by my mother at our home on Orange St. My grandfather requested, if I would take temporary charge of the Museum during his absence, which I accepted with much pleasure. This happened to be during the season’s busiest period, and this unique rendezvous was a rather popular and well known favorite place for the tourists to visit and congregate; whiling away hours of study and research.

In my brief stewardship many interesting events took place, which perhaps I could write something interesting about. But the present item that I am about to relate, devolves with a mysterious feathered virtibrate [sic] balking science and stumping ornithology.

One day a little Negro lad brought in a beautiful pure white fantailed pigeon and wished to know if I would like to purchase it. I said how much do you want for it? He said do you think twenty-five cents is too much? I tossed him a quarter and the deal was sealed, and placed the pigeon in an old empty mocking bird cage and hung the cage on a fig limb in the yard.

Standing there and studying the bird real carefully, I thought how beautiful he would appear in bright colors. About that time “Diamond Dyes” were just coming in to fashion and were quite popular among the ladies in dying their under garments-gloves-stockings & etc. I sent “Jinkey” (the Museum’s attendant) over to Dr. Alexander’s drug store on St. George St. for a selection of bright colors. On “Jinkie’s” return, I began operating on the pigeon. First cooking the Colors, red- blue- green, yellow black and Cerease, in separate containers, and when boiled according to directions, I placed a piece of Court plaster over the pigeon’s eyes, and dipped his different parts in the steaming dyes. First I stuck his head and thoroughly shook it around in the brilliant red, then pushed his head down to his shoulders in the Royal blue. Dipped each of his wings in the Kelly green, and with a stiff brush, rubbed the Cerese dye under the wings, then dipped his tail, with a good flushing in the Kelly green. Squatting his breast & stomach in the black dye.

Then the last operation. I immersed his entire body including his head in the Chinese yellow dye, and giving it a good shaking and rubbing in. Removing the Court plaster from the pigeon’s eyes, I placed him back in the cage, and hung it up on the Fig limb in the yard. Well that poor pigeon shook himself until I thought all his feathers would come out. “Jinkie” and I had about as much dye on us, as the pigeon did. But it was quite easily removed, by knowing how. Before leaving the Museum that Evening I entered the yard to inspect the job accomplished. O! my O! my- what a deplorable sight met my gaze, such a mess - my heart felt sick and the blood pressure of my Conscience gave me much remorse. There stood the poor pigeon on the perch- forlorn with his head hanging down by his side, as if almost ready to keel over. I prodded myself, to think what a big nut I was to even attempt to accomplish such a thing and with sorrow in my heart wended my way homeward.

That night a terrible thunder, lightning and violent rain storm ensued, and while in bed I thought of that poor pigeon out in the cage with all that rain pouring down on him. The next morning I did not arrive at the Museum until quite late- about noon. “Jinkie” came running down Bay St. to meet me. He was all out of breath, and very excitedly exclaimed! “Mr. Freddie you don aut to see dat pigeon.” O! yes, I said, I suppose he is lying on his back in the bottom of that cage, with his feet pointing Heavenward- stone dead. No sah! said "Jinkie". "He’s de mostas beautifullists bird I ever did seed. O! man Mr. Freddie just wait till you seed him."

Well when I did view him, you could have knocked me down, with the tail feather of a Canary. He sat there so smart and haughty. The most beautiful blending of colors on could imagine, the work of the supernatural. The rain and the morning’s sun must have done the trick. I do not think again it could ever be repeated. This bird was a magnificent spectacle. Crowds came to see it, we did a land office business for several days. "Jinkie" and I kept the secret inviolate. The St. Augustine News gave it lots of publicity. The unclassified bird that had flown voluntarily into Dr. John Vedder’s menagerie yard. Though it resembled some what of a large dove, a nice pleasant old lady - stopping at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, came to me one day - and asked - how I knew what to feed it? She said the funny looking little man out in the yard, had told her it would only eat small lizards and baby snakes.

Remember my friends this all happened on Bay street - as Bay St. is the topic for this evening.

Fred Vedder.

[letter written by Fred Vedder to a newspaper reporter for the St. Augustine News; original currently in the possession of the St. Augustine Historical Society Archives in St. Augustine, FL]